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CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL

Ousted Ambassador Yovanovitch Testimony; Yovanovitch Responds to Trump's Twitter Attacks on Her. Aired 10-10:30a ET

Aired November 15, 2019 - 10:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


[10:00:00]

GOLDMAN: -- threw the acid and -- and killed her?

YOVANOVITCH: There have been investigations, but while some of the lower-ranking individuals that were involved in this have been arrested, those who ordered this have not yet been apprehended.

GOLDMAN: After you stepped away from this anticorruption event to take this call, what did the director general tell you?

YOVANOVITCH: She said that there was great concern on the seventh floor of the State Department. That's where the leadership of the State Department sits. There was a great concern. They were worried.

She just wanted to give me a heads-up about this. And you know, things seemed to be going on and so she just wanted to give me a heads-up. I -- you know, hard to know how to react to something like that. I asked her what it was about. What did she think it was about?

She didn't know. She said that she was going to try and find out more, but she had wanted to give me a heads-up. In fact, I think she may even have been instructed to give me a heads-up on that.

And so I asked her, you know, kind of, what is the next step here. So she said she would try to find out more, and she would try to call me by midnight.

GOLDMAN: What happened next?

YOVANOVITCH: Around 1 o'clock in -- in the morning, she called me again and she said that there were great concerns. There were concerns up the street and she said I needed to get on the -- home -- come home immediately. Get on the next plane to the U.S.

And I asked her why. And she said she wasn't sure, but there were concerns about my security. I asked her, my physical security, because sometimes Washington knows more than we do about these things.

And she said, no, she hadn't gotten that impression that it was a physical security issue. But they were concerned about my security and I needed to come home right away.

You know, I argued. This is extremely irregular and -- and no reason given. But in the end, I -- I did get on the next plane home. GOLDMAN: You said you -- there were concerns up the street. What did you understand that to mean?

YOVANOVITCH: The White House.

GOLDMAN: Did she explain in any more detail what she meant by concerns about your security?

YOVANOVITCH: No, she didn't. I -- I did specifically ask whether this had to do with the -- Mayor Giuliani's allegations against me and so forth.

And she said she didn't know. It didn't even actually appear to me that she seemed to be aware of that. No -- no -- no reason was offered.

GOLDMAN: Did she explain what the urgency was for you to come back on the next flight?

YOVANOVITCH: The only thing that's pertinent to that was that, when she said that there were -- there were concerns about my security, that's all. But it was not further explained.

GOLDMAN: Now, prior to this abrupt call back to Washington, D.C., had you been offered an extension of your post by the State Department?

YOVANOVITCH: Yes. Under secretary -- the under secretary for Political Affairs had asked whether I would extend for another -- another year, departing in July of 2020.

GOLDMAN: When was that request made?

YOVANOVITCH: In early March.

GOLDMAN: So about a month and a half before this call?

YOVANOVITCH: Yes.

GOLDMAN: Did anyone at the State Department ever express concerns about your job performance?

YOVANOVITCH: No.

GOLDMAN: Now, after you returned to Washington a couple days after that, you met with the deputy secretary of State.

And at your deposition, you said that the deputy secretary of State told you that you had done nothing wrong but that there was a concerted campaign against you. What did -- what did he mean by that?

YOVANOVITCH: I'm not exactly sure, but I took it to mean that the allegations that Mayor Giuliani and others were putting out there, that that's -- that that's what it was.

GOLDMAN: And who else was involved in this concerted campaign against you? YOVANOVITCH: There were some members of -- of the press and others in Mayor Giuliani's circle.

GOLDMAN: And who from Ukraine?

YOVANOVITCH: In Ukraine, I think -- well, Mr. Lutsenko, the prosecutor general and Mr. Shokin, his -- his predecessor, certainly.

GOLDMAN: And at this time, Mr. Lutsenko was the lead prosecutor general, is that right?

YOVANOVITCH: Yes, that's correct.

GOLDMAN: And had President Zelensky indicated whether or not he was going to keep him on after the election?

YOVANOVITCH: He had indicated he would not be keeping on Mr. Lutsenko.

GOLDMAN: And I believe you testified earlier that Mr. Lutsenko had a -- a reputation for being corrupt, is that right?

YOVANOVITCH: That's correct.

GOLDMAN: Now, during this conversation did the deputy secretary tell you about your future as the ambassador to Ukraine?

[10:05:00]

YOVANOVITCH: Well, he told me I needed to leave.

GOLDMAN: What did he say?

YOVANOVITCH: He said that -- I mean, there was a lot of back and forth. But ultimately, he said the words that, you know, every Foreign Service officer understands, the president has lost confidence in you.

That was, you know, a terrible thing to hear. And -- and I said, well, you know, I guess I have to go then.

But no -- no real reason was offered as to why I had to leave and why it was being done in such a manner.

GOLDMAN: Did you have any indication that the State Department had lost confidence in you?

YOVANOVITCH: No.

GOLDMAN: And were you provided any reason why the president lost confidence in you?

YOVANOVITCH: No.

GOLDMAN: Now, you testified at your deposition that you were told at some point that Secretary Pompeo had tried to protect you, but that he was no longer able to do that. Were you aware of these efforts to protect you? YOVANOVITCH: No, I was not until -- until that meeting with Deputy Secretary Sullivan.

GOLDMAN: And were you -- did you understand who he was trying to protect you from?

YOVANOVITCH: Well, my understanding was that the president had wanted me to leave and there was some discussion about that over the prior months.

GOLDMAN: Did you have any understanding why Secretary Pompeo was no longer able to protect you?

YOVANOVITCH: No, it was just a statement made that he was no longer able to protect me.

GOLDMAN: So just like that, you had to leave Ukraine as soon as possible?

YOVANOVITCH: Yes.

GOLDMAN: How did that make you feel?

YOVANOVITCH: Terrible, honestly. I mean, after 33 years of service to our country, it was terrible. It's not the way I wanted my career to end.

GOLDMAN: Now, you also told the deputy secretary that this was a dangerous precedent. What did you mean by that?

YOVANOVITCH: I was worried -- I was worried about our policy, but also personnel, that -- and I asked him, how -- how are you going to explain this to people in the State Department, the press, the public, the Ukrainians, because everybody is watching.

And so if people see somebody who -- and -- and of course, it had been very public, the -- frankly, the attacks on me by Mayor Giuliani and others, and Mr. Lutsenko in Ukraine. If people see that I, who have been, you know, promoting our policies on anticorruption, if they can undermine me and get me pulled out of Ukraine, what does that mean for our policy? Do we still have that same policy? How are we going to affirmatively put that forward, number one?

Number two, when other countries, other actors in other countries, see that private interests, foreign interests, can come together and get a U.S. ambassador removed, what's going to stop them from doing that in the future in other countries?

Often the work we do, we try to be diplomatic about it, but as Deputy Assistant Secretary George Kent said, you know, sometimes we can get people really angry with us. It's uncomfortable. And we are doing our jobs, but sometimes people become very angry with us. And if they realize that they can just remove us, they're going to do that.

GOLDMAN: How did the deputy secretary respond?

YOVANOVITCH: He -- he said those were good questions and he would get back to me.

GOLDMAN: Did he ever get back to you?

YOVANOVITCH: He asked to see me the following day.

GOLDMAN: What did he say to you then?

YOVANOVITCH: He -- really, the conversation was more -- and, you know, again, I'm grateful for this, but really more to see how I was doing and, you know, what would I do next, kind of, how could he help.

GOLDMAN: But he didn't address the dangerous precedent that you flagged for him?

YOVANOVITCH: No.

GOLDMAN: Now, you understood, of course, that the president of the United States could remove you and that you served at the pleasure of the president, is that right?

YOVANOVITCH: That's right.

GOLDMAN: But in your 33 years as a Foreign Service officer, have you ever heard of a president of the United States recalling another ambassador without cause, based on allegations that the State Department itself knew to be false?

[10:10:00]

YOVANOVITCH: No.

GOLDMAN: Now, you testified in your opening statement that you had left Ukraine by the time of the July 25th call between President Trump and President Zelensky. When was the first time that you saw the call record for this phone call?

YOVANOVITCH: When it was released publicly at the end of September, I believe.

GOLDMAN: And prior to reading that call record, were you aware that President Trump had specifically made reference to you in that call?

YOVANOVITCH: No.

GOLDMAN: What was your reaction to learning that?

YOVANOVITCH: I was shocked, absolutely shocked, and -- and devastated, frankly.

GOLDMAN: What do you mean by devastated?

YOVANOVITCH: I was shocked and devastated that I would feature in a phone call between two heads of state in such a manner, where President Trump said that I was "bad news" to another world leader and that I would be "going through some things." So I was -- it was -- it was a terrible moment. A person who saw me actually reading the transcript said that the color drained from a face. I think I even had a physical reaction. I think, you know, even now, words kind of fail me.

GOLDMAN: Well, without upsetting you too much, I'd like to show you the excerpts from the call. In the first one, where President Trump says that "The former ambassador from the United States, the woman, was bad news, and the people she was dealing with in the Ukraine were bad news. So I just want to let you know."

What was your reaction when you heard the president of the United States refer to you as "bad news?"

YOVANOVITCH: I couldn't believe it. I mean, again, shocked, appalled, devastated, that the president of the United States would talk about any ambassador like that to a foreign head of state -- and it was me. I mean, I couldn't believe it.

GOLDMAN: The next excerpt, when the president references you, was a short one. But he said, "Well, she's going to go through some things."

What did you think when President Trump told President Zelensky and you read that you were going to "go through some things?"

YOVANOVITCH: I didn't know what to think. But I was very concerned.

GOLDMAN: What were you concerned about?

YOVANOVITCH: "She's going to go through some things." It didn't sound good. It sounded like a threat.

GOLDMAN: Did you feel threatened?

YOVANOVITCH: I did.

GOLDMAN: How so?

YOVANOVITCH: I didn't know exactly. It's not, you know, a very precise phrase. But I think -- it didn't feel like I was -- I really don't know how -- how to answer the question any further, except to say that it, kind of, felt like a vague threat. And so I wondered what that meant. It concerned me.

GOLDMAN: Now, in this same call where the president, as you just said, threatens you to a foreign leader, he also praises, rather, the corrupt Ukrainian prosecutor who led the false smear campaign against you.

I want to show you another excerpt or two from the transcript, or the call record, rather, where the president of the United States says, "Good, because I heard you had a prosecutor who was very good and he was shut down and that's really unfair. A lot of people are talking about that, the way they shut your very good prosecutor down and you had some very bad people involved." And he went on later to say, "I heard the prosecutor was treated very badly and he was a very fair prosecutor. So good luck with everything."

Now, Ambassador Yovanovitch, after nearly three years in Ukraine, where you tried to clean up the prosecutor general's office, was it the U.S. embassy's view that the former prosecutor general was a very good and very fair prosecutor?

YOVANOVITCH: No, it was not.

GOLDMAN: And in fact he was rather corrupt, is that right?

YOVANOVITCH: That was our belief.

GOLDMAN: The prosecutor general's office is a long-running problem in Ukraine, is that right?

[10:15:00]

YOVANOVITCH: Yes.

GOLDMAN: So how did you feel when you heard President Trump speak so highly of the corrupt Ukrainian prosecutor who helped to execute the smear campaign to have you removed?

YOVANOVITCH: Well, it was -- it was disappointing. It was concerning. It wasn't, certainly, based on anything that the State Department would have reported or frankly anybody else in the U.S. government. There was a -- an interagency consensus that, while, when Mr. Lutsenko came into office we were very hopeful that he would actually do the things that he said he would set out to do, including reforming the prosecutor general's office, but that did not materialize.

GOLDMAN: So this was not the uniform position of the official U.S. policymakers, is that right?

YOVANOVITCH: Right.

GOLDMAN: Now, let's go back to the smear campaign that you referenced. And in March, when you said it became public.

You previously testified that you had learned that Rudy Giuliani, President Trump's lawyer and representative, who was also mentioned in that July 25th call, was in regular communication with the corrupt prosecutor general in late 2018 and early 2019.

And at one point in your deposition, you said that they -- that being Giuliani and the corrupt foreign prosecutor general -- had plans to, quote, "do things to me." What did you mean by that?

YOVANOVITCH: I didn't -- I didn't really know, but that's what I had been told by Ukrainian officials.

GOLDMAN: Did you subsequently understand a little bit more, what that meant? YOVANOVITCH: Well, you know, now, with the advantage of hindsight, I think that meant removing me from my job in Ukraine.

GOLDMAN: Who did you understand to be working with Mr. Giuliani as his associates in Ukraine?

YOVANOVITCH: Well, certainly Mr. Lutsenko, Mr. Shokin. I believe that there were also Ukrainian-Americans, Mr. Parnas and Mr. Furman, who have recently been indicted.

GOLDMAN: They -- those were the two who have been indicted in New York?

YOVANOVITCH: Southern District of New York.

GOLDMAN: Now, at the end of March, this effort by Giuliani and his associates resulted in a series of articles in the Hill publication that were based on allegations in part from Lutsenko, the corrupt prosecutor general.

And just to summarize some of these allegations, there were, among others, three different categories. One category included the attacks against you, which you referenced in your opening statement, including that you had badmouthed the president and had given the prosecutor general a do not prosecute list. There was another that included allegations of Ukrainian interference in the 2016 election. And then there was a third that related to allegations concerning Burisma and the Bidens. Does that -- is that accurate?

YOVANOVITCH: Yeah. Yes.

GOLDMAN: Were these articles and allegations then promoted by others associated with the president in the United States?

YOVANOVITCH: They seemed to be promoted by those around Mayor Giuliani.

GOLDMAN: I'm going to show you a couple of exhibits, including a tweet here by President Trump himself on March 20th, which was the first day that one of these articles was published. It appears to be a quote that says, "John Solomon" -- who's the author of the articles -- colon: "As Russia collusion fades, Ukrainian plot to help Clinton emerges," unquote, @seanhannity, @FoxNews.

And then if I could go to another tweet, four days later. This is the president's son, Donald Trump Jr., who tweets, "We need more @RichardGrenell's" -- who's the ambassador to Germany, is that right?

YOVANOVITCH: That's correct.

GOLDMAN: ..."and less of these jokers as ambassadors." And it's a retweet of one of John Solomon's articles, or an article referencing the allegations that says, "Calls Grow to Remove Obama's U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine."

Were you aware of these tweets at the time? YOVANOVITCH: Yes.

GOLDMAN: What was your reaction to seeing this?

YOVANOVITCH: Well, I was worried.

GOLDMAN: What were you worried about?

YOVANOVITCH: That this didn't seem -- these attacks were, you know, being repeated by the president himself and -- and his son.

GOLDMAN: And were you aware whether they received attention on primetime television, on Fox News as well?

[10:20:00]

YOVANOVITCH: Yes, I did.

GOLDMAN: Now, were the -- was the allegation that you were badmouthing President Trump true?

YOVANOVITCH: No.

GOLDMAN: Was the allegation that you had created a do not prosecute list to give to the prosecutor general in Ukraine, true?

YOVANOVITCH: No.

GOLDMAN: In fact, didn't the corrupt prosecutor general himself later recant those allegations?

YOVANOVITCH: Yes.

GOLDMAN: Now, when these articles were first published, did the State Department issue a response?

YOVANOVITCH: As you said, there was a series of articles. So after the first article, which was an interview with Mr. Lutsenko and was only really about me and made certain allegations about me, the State Department came out the following day with a very strong statement, saying that, you know, these -- these allegations were fabrications.

GOLDMAN: So the statement addressed the falsity of the allegations themselves?

YOVANOVITCH: Yes.

GOLDMAN: It didn't say anything about your job performance in any way?

YOVANOVITCH: You know, honestly, I haven't looked at it in a very long time. I think it was generally probably laudatory, I can't recall.

GOLDMAN: Did anyone in the State Department raise any concerns with you or express any belief in these allegations?

YOVANOVITCH: No. I mean, people thought it was ridiculous. GOLDMAN: Now, after these false allegations were made against you, did you have any discussions with anyone in leadership in the State Department about a potential statement of support from the department or the secretary himself?

YOVANOVITCH: Yes. After the tweets that -- that you just showed us, I mean, it seemed to me that if the president's son is -- is saying things like this, that it would be very hard to continue in my position and have authority in Ukraine unless the State Department came out pretty strongly behind me.

And so, you know, over -- over the weekend of, like, March 22nd -- I think that's about the date -- there was a lot of discussion on e-mail among a number of people about what could -- what could be done.

I -- and under secretary -- the under secretary for Political Affairs called me on -- on Sunday, and I said, you know, it's really important that the secretary himself come out and be supportive. Because otherwise, it's hard for me to be the kind of representative you need here.

And he said he would talk to the secretary. I mean, that was -- that's my recollection of the call, that may not be exactly how it played out. But that was the -- my recollection.

GOLDMAN: This is David Hale, the under secretary for Political Affairs, who's the number-three person at the State Department?

YOVANOVITCH: Yes.

GOLDMAN: Did he indicate to you that he supported such a statement of support for you?

YOVANOVITCH: I think he must have because I don't think he would have gone to the secretary if he -- if he didn't support it. I mean, you wouldn't bring a bad idea to the secretary of state.

GOLDMAN: Your general understanding is that you did have the full support of the State Department, is that right?

YOVANOVITCH: Yes.

GOLDMAN: And in fact, during your 33-year career as a foreign service officer, did you ever hear of any serious concerns about your job performance?

YOVANOVITCH: No.

GOLDMAN: Was this statement of support ultimately issued for you?

YOVANOVITCH: No, it was not.

GOLDMAN: Did you learn why not?

YOVANOVITCH: Yeah. Yes. I was told that there was a concern on the seventh floor that if a statement of support was issued, whether by the State Department or by the secretary personally, that it could be undermined.

GOLDMAN: How would it -- could it be undermined?

YOVANOVITCH: That the president might issue a -- a tweet contradicting that or something to that effect.

GOLDMAN: So let me see if I got this right. You were one of the most senior diplomats in the State Department, you've been there for 33 years, you'd won numerous awards, you'd been appointed as an ambassador three times by both Republican and Democratic presidents, and the State Department would not issue a statement in support of you against false allegations because they were concerned about a tweet from the president of the United States?

YOVANOVITCH: That's my understanding.

SCHIFF: Mr. Goldman, if I could follow-up on that question. It seems like an appropriate time.

Ambassador Yovanovitch, as we sit here testifying, the president is attacking you on Twitter and I'd like to give you a chance to respond.

[10:25:00]

I'll read part of one of his tweets, "Everywhere Marie Yovanovitch went turned bad. She started off in Somalia, how did that go?" He goes on to say, later in the tweet, "It is a U.S. president's absolute right to appoint ambassadors."

First of all, Ambassador Yovanovitch, the Senate has a chance to confirm or deny an ambassador, do they not?

YOVANOVITCH: Yes, advise and consent.

SCHIFF: But would you like to respond to the president's attack that everywhere you went turned bad?

YOVANOVITCH: Well, I -- I mean, I don't -- I don't think I have such powers, not in Mogadishu, Somalia and not in other places. I actually think that where I've served over the years, I and others have demonstrably made things better, you know, for the U.S. as well as for the countries that I've served in.

Ukraine, for example, where there are huge challenges, including, you know, on the issue that we're discussing today of -- of corruption. Huge challenges, but they've made a lot of progress since 2014, including in the years that I was there.

And I think, in part -- I mean, the Ukrainian people get the most -- the most credit for that. But a part of that credit goes to the work of the United States and -- and to me, as the ambassador in the United -- in Ukraine.

SCHIFF: Ambassador, you've shown the courage to come forward today and testify, notwithstanding the fact you were urged by the White House or State Department not to; notwithstanding the fact that, as you testified earlier, the president implicitly threatened you in that call record.

And now, the president in real-time is attacking you. What effect do you think that has on other witnesses' willingness to come forward and expose wrongdoing?

YOVANOVITCH: Well, it's very intimidating.

SCHIFF: It's designed to intimidate, is it not?

YOVANOVITCH: I -- I -- I mean, I can't speak to what the president is trying to do, but I think the effect is to be intimidating.

SCHIFF: Well, I want to let you know, ambassador, that some of us here take witness intimidation very, very seriously.

Mr. Goldman?

GOLDMAN: Ambassador Yovanovitch, you indicated that those same articles in March that included the smear campaign also included allegations related to Ukraine's interference in the 2016 election and the Burisma-Biden connection. Is that right?

YOVANOVITCH: Yes.

GOLDMAN: So I'm going to end my questioning where we were before which was the July 25th call. And President Trump not only insults you and praises the corrupt prosecutor general, but he also, as you know by now, references these two investigations.

First, immediately after President Zelensky thanks President Trump for his, quote, "great support in the area of defense," unquote, President Trump responds, "I would like you to do us a favor though because our country has been through a lot and Ukraine knows a lot about it. I would like you to find out what happened with this whole situation with Ukraine, they say CrowdStrike. I guess you have one of your wealthy people. The server, they say Ukraine has it." And then he goes on in that same paragraph to say, "Whatever you can do, it's very important that you do it if that's possible."

Now, Ambassador Yovanovitch, from your experience as the ambassador in Ukraine for almost three years, and understanding that President Zelensky was not in politics before he ran for president and was a new president on this call, how would you expect President Zelensky to interpret a request for a favor?

YOVANOVITCH: The U.S. relationship for Ukraine is the single-most important relationship. And so, I think that President Zelensky -- any president -- would, you know, do what they could to, you know, lean in on a favor or request.

I'm not saying that that's a yes. I'm saying they would try to lean in and see what they could do.

GOLDMAN: Fair to say that a president of Ukraine that is so dependent on the United States would do just about anything within his power to please the president of the United States -- [10::30:00]